The “Mediation” in Social Media

Social media is neither good nor bad. It is merely another evolution of the participatory self-expression and creative individual cultural absorption which so well characterises historical and technological development…

Personal psychological or social identity are things always already, quite literally, “mediated”. In the modern sense of the word “media” we tend to mean that which mediates, which binds or connects the individual to the world of information and shared cultural expression or identity, through which the world and our place in it is made tangible, intelligible. In the older meanings of the word, it can be traced back to meanings of tunic, middle layer or sheath – quite literally “that which is worn”.

While we should never perhaps place too much emphasis on the etymology (i.e. derivation) of a word to understand its contemporary uses, it is nevertheless often instructive to filter our modern semantics in precisely this way. In the context of a brief analysis of social media and its broader cultural impact, the notion that the things which bind us together in these remote and diverse digital communities, these “social media”, have evolved semantically in some sense from apparel and clothing – this can be revealing.

In some perhaps indistinct or ineffable sense we very much don the various clothes and garments of the cultural connections and bonds we build. Psychologically, we accumulate and aggregate fragments and motifs of the cultural forms and expression to which we each feel in some way drawn. We absorb these layers and through progressive sedimentation, accumulation and creative interdependence – we construct and define ourselves. This is how cultures and individual psychological subjectivities cross-fertilise and interact. The grander scales of historical and cultural change are energised by the creative individual choices and collective interactions of participatory self-definition as mediated through culture and technology.

Social media is neither good nor bad but as evidenced through that which is made from it, no less than any form of communication, be it interpersonal or macroscopic; and this – even globally-connected on a planetary scale. Social media is merely another channel or vector through which we aggregate and propagate self-identity from, and into, the world. The commercialisation and identity-farming of the large internet corporations is perhaps inevitable as a phenomenon arising from this globally interdependent and intricately interconnected digital social space.  I wonder what longer-term consequences will evolve from the economy of a psychological self, perpetually mediated and penetrated 24/7 across the broad social media spectrum as we are currently witnessing and experiencing it.

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